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'India is fast becoming one of WWE's most important international markets' : Andrew Whitaker- WWE president, International

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World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has emerged as one of the strongest TV brands in India, providing sports broadcaster Ten Sports a daily diet of popular content.

While US stays as its main revenue earner, WWE's international revenues make up 26 per cent, or $135 million, of its total pie. UK, Australia and France are its top three markets in terms of size, but the fan base in India is growing. So is WWE's efforts to market the property as it recently brought down one of its Superstars Kane for a promotional visit to Mumbai and Delhi.

Despite the enormous proliferation of content in the market, WWE is a significant force within the entertainment and pop culture.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, WWE president, International Andrew Whitaker unveils the company's growth plans in global markets.

Excerpts:

Why do you think WWE is so effective in connecting with audiences globally?

One of WWE's greatest strengths is that it offers quintessential American content that translates well across cultural boundaries. Developed over the last 25 years, our broad portfolio of specialised business units ranges from live and televised entertainment through to consumer products, digital media and our studios division. These business units, all marketed and distributed under the WWE brand, have made WWE into the recognised global leader in sports entertainment. The content is easy for audiences to relate to. So regardless of our fans' culture or language, they can become enthralled in the drama, storylines and characters.

In terms of revenue and business generated, how much comes from outside the US?

In 2008, international revenues represented 26 per cent of total annual revenue for the WWE, equating to around $135 million. The top three markets in terms of size are currently the UK, Australia and France.

Where does India fit in?

Given how quickly the WWE's fan base continues to grow in size, loyalty and passion, India is fast becoming one of WWE's most important international markets.

Ten Sports recently started airing WWE content in the same week as the US. Is this practice followed by most broadcasters globally?

Yes, we aim to deliver WWE content to our international fans as soon as we can.

Do you have a special relationship with Ten Sports?

Ten Sports has been WWE's television affiliate for over seven years. During this time, it has invested in successfully growing WWE's profile across India. They are one of our most proactive and supportive television partners internationally.

'Our most important revenue generators are live and televised entertainment and consumer products. Our aim is to continue to grow in these areas, as well as in the digital and studios divisions'

The last time the WWE had a full tour here was back in 2002. How come there has not been more activity in this regard?

WWE is broadcast in 145 countries globally. We are continuously assessing the right time to hold a live event tour in every market.

Outside of the US, we deliver around 80 live events per year. While we do not have any confirmed tour dates for India at the moment, we hope to return in the near future.

Has the number of tours in Asia gone up over the last couple of years?

Yes, in line with WWE's growth within Asia, we are also increasing our live events in the region.

Which of your four divisions has grown the most over the past year?

Our most important revenue generators are live and televised entertainment and consumer products. Our aim is to continue to grow in these areas, as well as in the digital and studios divisions.

What increase has there been in revenues derived from television licensing fees over the last five years?

Internationally, revenues generated from TV licensing fees have grown by well over 30 per cent in the last five years.

Are you looking at other areas like licensing and merchandising to grow the WWE brand in India?

Yes. The WWE has appointed an agency to solicit licensing opportunities on our behalf in India, allied to Mattel's launch of WWE's new toy line in 2010. The WWE is also exploring the opportunity to develop stand alone official merchandise stores in Mumbai and Delhi.

WWE reported a drop in the first quarter revenues. By when do you expect to see a turn around?

During the first quarter, WWE's core businesses performed relatively well. It is important to note that WWE's annual WrestleMania event (WrestleMania XXV) occurred on 5 April, 2009 and consequently will be included in our second fiscal quarter financial results.

By comparison, WrestleMania XXIV in 2008 occurred on 31 March and was included as part of our first quarter results that same year, contributing approximately $31.3 million in revenues and 7.1 million in profit from across our various business lines.

All in all, despite a challenging economy, WWE stock actually outperformed other entertainment companies on both stock price performance and total return basis for the first quarter of 2009. WWE was actually up 4.2 per cent on a stock price basis versus the likes of CBS, Dream Works and Walt Disney Company, who were all down.

With the economic slowdown, how is WWE looking to manage costs more efficiently?

Although WWE is performing relatively well in the current economic environment, as a company we are working to significantly reduce operating expenses. The changes we have made will allow us to deliver even stronger financial performance in a challenging economic climate.

Could you shed light on how the WWE is using new media?

WWE's online presence is continuously growing and developing. We have more than 14 million unique visitors worldwide every month to our primary website, WWE.com, viewing approximately 22 million video streams.

This makes us a larger site than those of professional sports leagues, such as the NFL and Major League Baseball, and in 2008 WWE was the second most searched term on Yahoo! after Britney Spears.

We have also launched localised websites in a number of international markets including Spain, Italy, Portugal and, of course, India. In India, WWE has partnered with Sify to deliver a local Indian website. WWE content is also available to fans via on and off portal mobile platforms across the globe.

In terms of getting in fans at on ground events and driving pay-per-view buys, who are your top three performers at the moment?

The great thing about WWE Superstars and Divas is that they each hold a different appeal for different fans. While one fan will follow Rey Mysterio or John Cena, another will be a Jeff Hardy supporter. WWE offers something for everyone and that diversity comes to life at live events just by observing the amount of different WWE Superstar signs that are being held and merchandise worn by the fans.
What have the learnings been from making movies through WWE Studios?

The success proves that there is an immense appetite from our fans to see their favourite WWE Superstars undertaking movie roles for their enjoyment, either in cinemas or on DVD. It has also highlighted some exceptional talent among several WWE Superstars for applying their acting skills to the big screen.

How do you view competition like TNA which airs on another sports channel?

All forms of entertainment are competition for WWE as we compete for the public's attention and entertainment dollar. For any sports or entertainment company, whether you are Manchester United, U2 or WWE, the biggest concern is the enormous proliferation of content in the market.

However, WWE is a significant force within entertainment and pop culture. Within our specific entertainment genre, we clearly are the industry leader. While TNA is pro-wrestling, WWE is entertainment.

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